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For the sermon alone click here. A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 19 April 2020 on Luke 24:13-35
Our message today is simple, yet profound. The living Lord Jesus is with us on our paths and in our distress, in his Word and in the breaking of bread.
Our story begins on the afternoon of the day we call the first Easter day, with two of Jesus’ disciples walking home. They might not have been in the top twelve disciples, but they had still pinned their hopes on Jesus as the Messiah. And those hopes had been dashed and there was nothing left for them in Jerusalem, the city in which Jesus had died on the cross two days earlier. They were going home.
It was about 12 kilometres from Jerusalem to Emmaus, their home village. But the two were making hard work of it. They walked slowly and talked as they walked, hoping to lift the heavy burden on their heart. As they trudged along, they were overtaken from behind. They probably hoped that the stranger would leave them alone. But they had no such luck.
“What are you discussing together as you walk along?” the stranger asked.
One of them, named Cleopas was surprised. “Are you the only stranger in these parts who doesn’t know the things that have happened in the last few days?”
“What things?” the stranger asked, making Cleopas retell the story from the beginning.
“You know, about Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet great in word and deed and we had hoped that he was God’s promised King who would set us free. But our nation’s leaders arrested him, put him on trial, condemned him to death and had him crucified. And this is the third day since it happened, and our women are telling the strangest stories, of how they went to the tomb early this morning and found it empty and saw visions of angels who told them that Jesus is alive. And our men went and found the tomb empty just as they said, but they didn’t see him.”
If he thought the stranger was going to be impressed with his story telling skills, he was much mistaken. “How foolish and slow to believe you are,” the man said. “Didn’t the Christ have to suffer these things before he entered into his glory?” And the stranger opened the Bible. Not like a person might open a book, but like they’d open a room that had been kept shut for months, or like they’d open a blind to let the light of day to cast the shadows aside. Like we will open our front doors the first day the stay at home order is lifted. The stranger opened the Bible to their understanding, so that they would see the darkness of that first Good Friday in the light of God’s plan from the beginning.
Starting with Genesis and working his way through, the stranger must have stopped by at Genesis chapter 22, where Abraham raised his knife to sacrifice his son Isaac, but God stopped his hand and showed him the ram caught in the brambles for him to offer in Isaac’s place.
The stranger probably mentioned the story of Joseph. How Joseph was rejected by his brothers and was cast into prison unjustly before being raised up to the king’s right hand.
Could the stranger have failed to bring up Exodus chapter 11, how the Israelites, on the night they were to be set free from their slavery in Egypt, painted the blood of the lamb on the door of their houses to keep away the wrath of the angel of death?
Could the stranger have forgotten Psalm 22?
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me? I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. I can count all my bones. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. You who fear the Lord, praise him. For he has not despised the suffering of the afflicted one. He has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
And who could leave out Isaiah 53?
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
As the stranger shared these passages of Scripture and others, their hearts burned within them. I suppose it’s that feeling you get when someone tells you that thing that you should have known all along. When the joy of sudden enlightenment is mixed with the embarrassment of being the only one who didn’t know the truth.
But while the light was dawning in their minds the sun was sinking in the sky. And by the time they arrived in Emmaus it was almost evening. The stranger looked like he meant to keep going, but they bullied him in friendly way until the stranger gave up and came inside with them. There wasn’t much in the pantry, but at least there was bread. They sat at the table and they asked their guest to do the honours.
The man took the bread, gave thanks and broke it and handed it out, just as he had when he had fed the 5000, just as he had when he shared his last supper with his disciples and said, “This bread is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Only then were their eyes opened to see who their guest had been all the time. It was Jesus. When he disappeared from view.
They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Their doubts had turned to faith and their grief had turned to joy. And those 12 long kilometres to Jerusalem that had felt so far as they trudged slowly home, felt like nothing as they ran back to share the news with the others.
Here we see the true joy of Easter. Not just a day of feasting when too much chocolate is never enough. But here is a joy that is better than chocolate. A hope that brightens every Sunday that can empower our choices and actions every day. The living Lord Jesus, risen from the dead who is with us along all of life’s roads, not just when we feel him close and see him clearly but even in our distress, in the midst of our fears and doubts. Don’t forget, although they didn’t see him, he saw them. And although they didn’t know he was with them, he still was. But we can also find Jesus in the two places where the two disciples saw him. Not in the empty tomb where Mary saw him.
Not in the locked room where the eleven disciples saw him. We can’t go back to those places. But in the Scriptures, the word of God, the word from God that reveals his plan for the world, his plan that hinges on the cross and empty tomb of the Lord Jesus.
None of us have to walk home this morning. We are already there. And there are many things we can’t do. But one thing we can do in our isolation is we can open our Bibles and Jesus can still speak to us today. As we hear his promises and believe his assurances our hearts can burn within us as they did in those two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
And they saw him in the breaking of the bread. During his ministry Jesus said to the crowds,
I am the bread of life, which a man may eat and not die. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day. The one who feeds on me will live forever.
And again at the last supper, he broke the bread and said to his disciples,
This is my body which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.
We don’t eat Jesus. We don’t literally drink his blood. But we do see Jesus, we see him proclaimed as loudly and as well, in fact, better than any human preacher, in a simple meal of bread and wine that we share because he told us to. A simple meal we call communion because in it we share fellowship with our creator and saviour and with each other. The bread, pale and lifeless, like his own broken body. The wine, red and liquid, like his own precious blood. But it is food for our bodies, and drink for our thirst. As Jesus is food and drink for our souls. A person can’t survive three weeks without food. They can’t survive three days without drink. But who can survive a moment without the living Lord Jesus?
Where are you looking for Jesus? Where do you expect to find him? Look for Jesus where the two disciples found him on the road to Emmaus. Look in the Scriptures and let God open your eyes to the truth. And when we are allowed out of our houses and allowed to gather in church once more, see him in the breaking of bread. For as we share that simple meal, as the apostle Paul said, we will proclaim his death until he comes. Come, Lord Jesus come.